Friday, August 10, 2012

Teach a man to fish (but don't teach a woman to fish?)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I worry that I spend a lot more time giving fish than teaching fishing at work. (Despite the post title, my experience has actually been that women are more interested in 'learning how to fish' than men are.)

This happens particularly with requesting books. Last weekend a lot of people wanted books that our system doesn’t own, so I offered them the options of interlibrary loans or purchase requests. My worries about feeding versus teaching escalated when I realized that, based on my previous conversation with the patron, I decided ahead of time whether to put in the request from him or her or whether to show the patron how to do it. So not only do I rarely teach, I apparently also use stereotyping to decide who is a candidate to be taught.
Who I taught how to put in a request:
-Middle-aged white woman requesting the sequels to YA books for her daughter. She knew the books she wanted were not yet out and she had checked for records for them in the catalog. When I asked her if she wanted me to put in a request for her or if she would like to learn how to do it, she enthusiastically replied that she would like to learn.

Who I put in requests for:
-A 13ish boy who wants the DVD of the new Wimpy Kid movie, which only came out in theaters yesterday.
-An elderly white man who wanted a biography of a psychologist for his daughter. He introduced his question by saying “If I’m having a senior moment, are you the person to talk to?”
-An African lady who I spoke with over the phone. She had a heavy accent and was also carrying on a conversation with family members in the background. She had previously failed to understand a couple of my answers to her questions.
I think in the future I am going to make it my policy to always offer to teach, although I have to figure out a good way to say “or I can just do it for you” without making patrons feel bad for selecting that option.

Note from a few days later: I have tried this three times since and not one patron was interested in learning. Bummer.

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